The Coast Guard cutter Liberty returned to Juneau on Tuesday night after delivering 1,500 pounds of food, 550 coats and 250 blankets to five Southeast communities during its annual Christmas drive.
The Liberty also donated 2,000 pounds of military rations - freeze-dried meals similar to the nonperishables used by campers and hunters.
The 110-foot "Santa" ship was so full it had to make two trips, docking in Skagway, Haines and Pelican on Dec. 12-14, resupplying in Juneau over the weekend, and then stopping in Hoonah and Angoon on Dec. 18.
"You would not believe the joy of these people and the big kick our crew got out of this," said Liberty cook Lionel Apiki, who helped organize the event for the second straight year.
The mayors of several towns thanked the Liberty for coming to the rescue with food and clothing at a time when money is short and the temperature low. About 80 Pelican residents showed up for a community potluck honoring the Coast Guard crew.
"The effect on our morale was awesome," Apiki said. "We left with a great feeling."
Apiki praised the community of Juneau, saying donations from grocery stores and service organizations increased about 20 percent this year. He said the Southeast Alaska Food Bank was a big help.
The food bank, which collected 32,000 pounds of food in November, was at 24,000 pounds for this month as of Wednesday. Much of the food comes from grocery stores, churches, scouts and individuals who conduct drives throughout the year. The Juneau Yacht Club, for example, collected 9,000 pounds for Christmas.
The food bank then supplies agencies such as St. Vincent de Paul and The Glory Hole in Juneau as well as organizations like the Salvation Army missions and senior citizen centers throughout the region.
"If it wasn't for the generosity of Juneau and the cooperation of the ferry system and airlines, we wouldn't be able to get food out to the villages," food bank manager Paul Hansen said.
The Great Alaska Toy Drive is another community collaboration. The event, sponsored by KINY, KSUP and the Alaska Army National Guard, will help distribute more than 1,000 Christmas gifts for needy children this year.
KINY's Michelle Shaw said a Blackhawk helicopter was scheduled to leave Juneau today with a load of toys for Angoon.
"We just think it's important for kids to have a happy Christmas," Shaw said. "Some of us are lucky to be able to share the wealth."
The toy drive also supplements other holiday programs, such as the Salvation Army Angel trees and the Foster Child Caring Tree. The Salvation Army will deliver at least 250 toys along with 100 food baskets this Christmas.
"Our van has been full every day and we have more coming in," Lt. Christie Kamalo said. "We're finally getting a lot of gifts for teens and older children this week."
More than 125 toys will be distributed through the foster child program.
"Juneau always comes through," foster care specialist Candice Heppner said. "We plan on writing a lot of thank-you cards."
The Glory Hole handed out 49 food boxes on Monday and could distribute more than 200 for Christmas. It will easily surpass last year's effort, said executive director Joan Decker.
"I'm not sure why, I do know it's been more difficult for single people to get food stamps," Decker said.
The Glory Hole still needs donations - especially gifts appropriate for teens - for its annual Christmas eve party 3-5 p.m. on Sunday.
"We try to give gifts to anyone who happens to be there," Decker said. "The children are delighted and you should see how happy the mothers and fathers are."
For more information of how to help the service organizations, contact: The Southeast Alaska Food Bank at 789-6184; Great Alaskan Toy Drive at 586-1800; the Salvation Army at 586-2136; and The Glory Hole at 586-4159.
Mike Sica can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.